Tag Archives: orisha

Vodun F.A.Q. – What is the difference between Ifa and Orisha (or Orishaism)?

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 As I have mentioned in earlier articles, there are many streams of Vodun, Orisha, honored Ancestor worship, and Nature worship in Africa and the diaspora.  In Africa, because they all have a very long history, they have all gained legitimacy over time and through effective practice and aiding in the success of their people.  Every village has different specific customs, but there are fairly large centralized streams in which the village and family based groups adhere to certain norms for their stream.  There are even new streams of Agnostic and seeming Atheist Nature-ism.

The major groups that spring to mind are Benin Vodun, Yoruba Ifa and Orisha, Igbo Odinani, and the Ashanti and Akan traditional groups.

Ifa, as a specific name for a group as well as the name of the deity/Orisha of law and obligation, is one of the main Yoruba streams.

Orisa/Orisha is the term used for people who worship the Orishas but may or may not belong to an established large stream.  Most people in the diaspora are in the category of non affiliated or locally affiliated, regardless of what titles some may claim.  The only way to get a title within Ifa is to earn it from an Ifa temple or representative of an Ifa temple in Yorubaland.  Likewise, the only way to get a title in Benin Vodun is through a temple or representative of a temple in Benin.  There is no official status in an African belief system without actual Africans.

This is not to say that other streams of Orisha or African and diaspora spirituality are not legitimate.  Anyone may worship the Orishas, so long as one respects the cultures their legends and practices were crystalized in, and respects the Orishas themselves.  No problems there.  The problems start when people start claiming titles they didn’t earn, and even worse, do not even attempt to keep certain consistent norms of the culture and system they are claiming a title in.

If one is initiated into a diaspora tradition, that is fine.  They are free and even encouraged to serve their community as best as they can.  It’s just that they should qualify their title with the diaspora stream they belong to, and not lie explicitly or through omission, that they belong to or hold that rank in an African stream that they do not.

There are many people running around calling themselves babalawo or iyanifa, who did not earn these titles by Yoruba standards.  Some were initiated and bestowed rank by underqualified people who lied to them and took their money.  So they believe they have rank that they do not.  Others just lie.  Some did even worse than just lying, went to Africa, sat in people’s temple, ate their food, and were received as guests in trust, and then returned to the diaspora claiming higher titles and lording their initiation over Africans in the diaspora who could not afford to make the journey.

Recently, since more actual Ifa priests are visiting and serving in the diaspora, the ability of pretenders to run initiation mills is lessening.  It hasn’t completely died out, but it will because people will have access to authentic Ifa.

Mind that actual Ifa and other ancestral priests of other streams of Vodun and Orisha in Africa have never condemned or even put down people in the diaspora for making due, doing the best we could with what we had available.  The only problem is in the misrepresentation and the disrespect of the original cultures and practices.

For more perspective on this read:

Ifa and Orisha in the Diaspora.

The Difference Between Ifa Worship and Orisa Worship.

Blessings and Ashé!

Orisha Oko (Okko)

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Orisha Oko


Orisha Oko is in charge of agriculture, and owns all cultivated land.  He is also a judge in many matters, including but not limited to witchcraft and the benevolence or malevolence thereof.

In the diaspora, where most of our practice has been labelled malevolent “witchcraft” by the misinformed, we depend on him to learn to use our gifts sanely and appropriately.

His sacred colors are red and white in some traditions, red and white with a little blue in others, and light pink and blue or blue and white or red and blue in others still.  The pattern these colors are usually arranged in is striped or plaid, or alternating.

His sacred number is 2 or 7.  He is strongly connected to Obatala, Yemaya, the Ibeji, Ogun, and Oshun.  Traditions vary as far as their relation.

ardenoko02In altars, shrines, and rituals, he is embodied in an iron rod, by a sword thrust into the ground, by two coconuts each painted red and white, and by the plow.  In some cases, people have represented him with a balance scale, or balanced objects.

His taboo is salt and saltwater because too much of it ruins the ground for vegetables.

He is depicted with a large set of genitalia, especially giant testicles which plow the ground, producing fertile crops as he walks by.

He is the star of the yearly yam harvest festivals in many African communities.  These take place usually in August or September.  It is a good deed to be extremely generous in all ways during the festival.  Generosity brings prosperity.  During the festival, “rain makers” who are priests and other gifted people who are specialists at bringing rain help to make the festival, and are rewarded well for this.  Vegetable dishes are cooked in the homes and establishments of adherents, and given out to the public.

All witches or actively spiritual people who are worshiping Orisha but operating outside the confines of the African priesthood, should respect and give offerings to Orisha Oko.  This will ensure that you will stay in the appropriate energy and shows that you concede to the judgement of Nature, and have no illusions of somehow operating outside of Nature.  Surely, if you screw up, Nature will do what she does anyway, but observance of Oko keeps you aware of where the boundaries are.

Food Offerings to Oko.

Oko LOVES VegetablesOko loves just about any kind of vegetable, but it is more meaningful and will help you more to give him things that are locally grown in season.  In places where yams are grown, it is a big deal to give him the newly harvested yams, but if you live in an area wherein the apple harvest or cactus fruit harvest or corn harvest is a big deal, then this is what you should give him during those harvest times.  Other times of the year, it is good to give him what is in season then.

On the other hand, it is a good idea to, at least during the time the yam festivals are going on in Africa, give him some yams or at least sweet potatoes then to express your awareness of your origins.  Some starchy root vegetable should be given at least.

Vegetable salads, stews, steamed vegetables, and fritters are all good offerings to Oko.  I have gotten good results from occasionally offering red and white fruits and vegetables, such as red delicious apples, and radishes.

Incense Offerings to Orisha Oko.

Many materials are used in observance of Orisha Oko, but charcoal in judicial proceedings, is used to mark the guilty.  So whatever you burn for Oko should result in ashes that are good for the Earth.

You can use the charcoal when you burn incense, to represent your wrongdoings, and the action of burning incense to symbolize your hope that your wrongs or inappropriate behavior will at least somehow feed some goodness or appropriateness.

With Oko, it is not a good idea to substitute loose incense on charcoal for sticks or cones unless you are sure they are made with natural ingredients.

A recipe:

  • a spoon of Eshu incense.
  • a handful of myrrh or frankincense.
  • a handful of red sandalwood (camwood).
  • a pinch of chalk.
  • a pinch of red dirt or red clay powder.
  • a pinch of powdered yam, sweet potato powder, or potato flakes.
  • a pinch of sugar.

Mix these and crush them to your desired consistency.  Pass the finished container through the smoke of Eshu incense, and give the first dose to Eshu.  Then it is ready.

Oko Oil.

Any cold pressed or gently extracted vegetable oil is sacred to Oko, but since some prefer something a little fancier, here is a recipe for something he’d like.

In one bottle put:

  • 3 drops of Eshu oil.
  • 2 heaping teaspoons red sandalwood powder.
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil.

In another bottle put:

  • 3 drops of Eshu oil.
  • 2 heaping teaspoons chalk, kaolin clay powder, or eggshell powder.
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil.

These are a pair, so you should consecrate them in Eshu incense smoke in the same incident.  Then close the bottles and give them a good shake.  Wrap them in a red and white cloth, and let them sit in a cool, dark place for 3 months.

When you are giving observance to Oko, or when you have a serious conflict or dilemma to settle, put some of the white oil on the hand you write with or that side of your head, and the red oil on the other.

You can also make an ointment using a solid oil such as coconut oil or shea butter for this.

Solutions: How to Avoid Negative Cultural Appropriation of African and Diaspora Belief Systems

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Hof Dor, Israel

Hof Dor, Israel

Lately, there has been some buzz in the community about cultural appropriation of African belief systems.  We’ve talked a lot about the problem, and I think it’s time we addressed some realistic solutions.  The global spiritual community has always shared information, but the speed has increased dramatically since the internet.  Sometimes speed isn’t such a good thing when one is dealing with ideas that can take many years to grasp, even for someone who belongs to the culture in which it arose.

It is very important that diaspora practitioners, who sometimes have the western tendency to be a bit focused on maintaining identity in a way that Africans in their ancestral homelands don’t have to worry about, understand the way others learn about the Vodun.  If you are multi generation legacy, the way you learned is not the only way or the only legitimate way.  For some, this is a journey they began as an individual, or their legacy may be only one or two generations deep, or may have been secret.

In some cases, someone may have been called/contacted by a Vodun, Orisha, Lwa, or other African flavor of Energy/Spirit even though they are practicing a non African faith.  In some, they find that African ideas fill in some space in their belief system that others don’t.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of liking an idea and incorporating it into their practice.  These aren’t necessarily bad, but can turn bad if they are misinterpreting something, and don’t have the guidance to correct it.

Heritage, Tradition, and Innovation.

A great artist, Pablo Picasso once said that one should learn the rules so that one can break them like an artist.  Though African spirituality tends to be more like a science no matter where in Africa it is from, one should learn the traditions well before taking it upon one’s self to deviate from them.  For this reason, if you are not a practitioner of west or central African belief systems, but were called nonetheless, or you are incorporating Spirits whose relational identities were crystallized in Africa into your belief system, you should take it upon yourself to contact a priest/ess in or from Africa.

All of us in the diaspora with the option and any level of respect, have connections with priests and practitioners in Africa.  All of us.

Be aware that most traditions were local and based around families, clans, and villages, and that the people and geography and climate were important and unique.  What is a blessing in one place may be an abomination in another, as far as general practice, but at the more esoteric level, many things start to merge.  You will do well to be in touch with someone aware enough and deep enough in actual practice, to advise and guide you even though you are far from their local area.

Even if you don’t intend to fully commit to an African belief system, it is important to have this line of communication to avoid doing things that may be disrespectful or just imbalanced or nonsensical.  If, for instance, you are Wiccan, and you like Yemaya, that is all good, but if you want to get the most positive energy from that, you should ask Eshu to open the way for you to speak to Yemaya.  There is no Yemaya without Vodun, and in Vodun, we (generally) call to Eshu (or the Gate Keeper by another name) before we contact other Orishas.  There are many good reasons for this that a priest/ess would be able to explain to you in detail.

We keep in touch with those in the Motherland so that even if our ways are quite different, we stay within certain bounds of sanity and soundness.

Now, using the Yemaya example again, once you understand why you should ask Eshu to open the gate first, and the ways to go about this, you may think of ways to do this “seamlessly” in a Wiccan ceremony or observance.  This is an innovation, and it is okay.  Just get some feedback from your African guides, and perhaps discuss this with others who are doing something similar.

Once you know the traditions, you can understand how to deviate from them in a respectful way.  Respectful deviation is far, far away from negative cultural appropriation.  It is good innovation, and nobody should have a problem with it, though some will anyway.

Doing it Wrong

The wrong way to go about appropriation/incorporation is to steal bits and pieces of practices without any regard for their cultural origins, or to claim titles specific to certain organizations without actually earning them.

It is the habit of many neopagans to call themselves priests and priestesses of whatever deities they like.  We don’t do this in African systems.  To be a priest/ess of a deity, you must pass through the initiations and rise through the ranks of the cult of that deity.  There is no way around this.  The first members of this deity’s cult may have had to go it alone, but once it was established, it became a matter of community.

This does not mean that you are not permitted to worship an Orisha.  Some today are running around telling people that they are not entitled to worship or mention Orisha because they have not been initiated, but this is just a bald faced lie.  The Orishas are forces of Nature, and all living beings live in the same Nature.  Atheists call it “ocean”, and we call it Olokun.  It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is what it is.  Thing is, if you’re going to utter the name Olokun in reverence, you must respect the fact that the name and its legends come from west Africa.  Part of that respect is respecting the priesthood unless or until the day comes that the priesthood no longer respects Olokun, and I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

In the diaspora, there are priests and priestesses within their specific systems.  In this case, they will add which temple or group in which they serve as a priest or priestess, so as to avoid confusion with the temples in Africa.   The ranks may not imply what they would in Africa though.  In some groups, being a priest/ess may mean that they have begun service to the community, and may still be in a phase of training, whereas in other groups, they have passed through the highest initiation for one of more deities.  African systems are alive, and new groups develop all the time.

It is wrong to treat Vodun and other very alive African belief systems as if they are dead, and nobody knows what they should be doing.  It is very much alive, and for anyone in the world with internet, guidance is just a click away.

It is also wrong to attempt to force African belief systems to fit Christian or western “hippie” sensibilities.  Though we do believe that one’s beliefs affect one’s behavior and energy, and therefore one’s life, there is no thought policing in Vodun.  We do not insist that everyone think the same or behave the same or according to the same set of rules and taboos.  Not only do traditions and pantheons vary from place to place, but what is a good deed and what is a “sin” or unwise or negative action varies from head to head.  Sometimes person to person as well.

We believe that all of Nature deserves respect, not denial, and that things that are negative or evil should be coped with honestly.  The “white light” way is not and should not be universal. Conflict feels like an unfortunate aspect of life, but life could not exist without it.  Your body must draw air in and out in order for you to survive.  Sometimes a person must kill in order to protect themselves and their loved ones.

One of the hardest things some of us have found in teaching non Africans and over-assimilated Africans, is getting them to understand that some things others can do and get away with, that they cannot, and vise versa.  What is sweet for one may be bitter to another.  What would depress or degrade one may uplift and exalt another.  There is no one way for everybody.

Click here to continue reading.

List of African/Yoruba Orishas (Archive and work in progress)

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This is a sort of an expansion on someone else’s work.  The original post is here: http://www.abibitumikasa.com/forums/showthread.php/55468-Comprehensive-list-of-all-401-orishas-%28ako%CC%81jo%CC%A3po%CC%A3%CC%80-oru%CC%81ko%CC%A3-a%CC%80wo%CC%A3n-o%CC%80ri%CC%80s%CC%A3a%CC%80-mo%CC%A3%CC%81kanle%CC%81ni%CC%81rinwo%CC%81%29

…so you can see why I would want to archive the content.  There is also a character encoding problem.

If anyone would like to add to this list, please feel free to post.  Mind you, this is a list specifically of Orishas from Yoruba and associated African traditions.  If you have an addition that has thusfar been exclusive or nearly so, to a specific group or region but allows for others outside to give observance, please make that clear.

If you would like to browse the list of deities from all areas of west to central Africa and the diaspora, click here.

Gender: Male
Numbers: 3, 4, multiples of 3
Colors: Black and red or black and white
Domain: Gates, boundaries, borders, crossroads.  Known as the gate keeper between the Orun and the Aye (spirit and physical realms) and the seen and unseen.
Attributes:  Both a protector and a trickster, he can both cause and prevent accidents or misfortune.  He is the master of luck, and can open doors or close them.
Important Notes:  Eshu is served first, except in cases of blood offerings when by default of using a weapon, Ogun is served first.  It is also a good idea to begin any Orisha project or craft by giving some reverence to Eshu first.

No information found.  Seems to be associated somehow with Oduduwa.

Gender: Female
Domain: A river in Nigeria.
Important notes: One of the wives of Lagbonna in a story in which she, Osun, and Yemaya/Yemoja shared the same husband, and he turned them into rivers because of their jealousy and constant fighting.

Gender: ?
Domain: Law and Justice
Important Notes:  Said to appear in the form of a chicken, embodied in a bamboo or like material staff and mat, punishes people who come to the king or judge with exaggerated complaints.

Gender: Male
Sacred Number: 6
Sacred Color: Red, hot red, red and gold
Embodiments/Symbols: double bladed axe (oshe), obsidian
Domain: Wilderness, wastelands, untouched Nature, volcanoes, the unexplored or uncharted lands, places that man can’t go, places that neither man nor other animals can go, things that man can never know or perceive, freedom, revolution
Associations: Husband of Yemoja, husband of Oshun, father of Shango
Important Notes: Aginju (also known as Aganju) is a very primal force, and may seem rather inhumane, but we all need him to survive.  He is the fire in the belly of the Earth, and part of the mechanism that helps us mammals to be warm blooded.

Ajaye, Olofin
Gender: Generally regarded or referred to as male, although being an aspect of Olodumare, they are all-gendered
Domain: Ashe, energy, life force, vitality, procreation, spark of creation
Important Notes:  This part or aspect of Olodumare gives the Orishas their power, and does not speak directly to humans anymore, except the Ancestors of the first generation.  He created the boundary between the Orun and the Aye, which Eshu now balances and guards.  Now, in order to tap into the Ultimate Olodumare’s Source, we must go through Eshu and meditate on Olorun.

Aje Shaluga
Gender: Depends where and who you ask
Sacred Number: 5 or 7
Sacred Colors: Blue, green, yellow, amber, gold, off-white
Embodiments/Symbols: Cowrie shells
Domain: Wealth, currency and real valuable materials/property specifically, rivers
Associations: Husband/wife of Oshun, Wife of Olokun depending where one is from
Important Notes: He/She is said to be very generous and have a big heart, and will save those who are in dire financial straits who petition him/her with sincerity.

Gender: Group, male and female
Sacred Colors: Black and yellow
Embodiments/Symbols: Bees nesting in shade trees, a beehive on a odan tree, an angry swarm of bees
Associations: Familiars of Shango
Important Notes: The Ara are deities of thunder, closely tied to Shango.  They may be the “death from the skies” aspect of lightning strikes.

Gender: Female
Sacred Colors: Red and white, red
Embodiments/Symbols: Red or white cross, red or white X
Domain: Justice, fairness, anti-corruption, fair use of power or strength
Important Notes: Ayelala is a venerated and deified Ancestor.  In her material life, she was a slave girl who was sacrificed in place of an adulteress.  She promised that when she died, she would become a guardian of truth and justice, and strike with death, people who broke grave promises and used their power unjustly.  Though her origins are the Ilaje in Ondo state in Nigeria, she is worshiped today as far as Benin because indeed, she does strike down the unjust enemies of those who go to her for help.  Photos of those she has striken are posted outside her temples.

Dagbe, Idagbe, Dangbe
Gender: Androgynous
Sacred Colors: Rainbow, Shiny or “oil slick” black
Embodiments: Black python
Domain: Lifespan, Immortality, Endurance, Permanence or Temporalness
Important Notes: Came directly from the sea, and is the venerated Ancestor of the royal family of the Savi Hweda.  As the legends and tales of his-her blessings spread, s-he became a more widely worshiped Orisha/deity of duration.

Ogun, Ogoun
Gender: Male
Sacred number: 3, 4
Sacred Colors: Combination of red, black, and green; black and green; iron/gunmetal black
Symbols/embodiments: Tools, Weapons, three legged pot or cauldron perhaps with a chain around it filled with tools according to one’s local traditions
Domain: Earth, metal, gifts from the Earth, technology, creativity, inventiveness, practical intelligence, weapons and the use of weapons, warfare and strategy, industry, labor, work
Important notes: Ogun is one of the most important Orishas to the Yoruba people.  He is to be thanked for a lot of what makes a prosperous and civilized life possible and comfortable.  Click here for an excellent essay on Ogun by Awo Fa’lokun Fatunmbi.

Yemoja, Yemaya
Gender: Female
Sacred number: 7
Sacred colors: Blue, combination of blue and white, sea or river blue/green, transparent blue or blue-green, pearlescent
Symbols/embodiments: Boats, anchors, shells, fish, boating or seafaring equipment, pearls, river opals
Domain: Rivers, water
Important notes: In west Africa, some places she is regarded as the general river owner/embodiment, and some places, the mother of all life on Earth.  Some places give more prominence to Olokun.  What you should do depends on what your ancestry is, what traditions you follow, or where your soul leads you.


(to be continued)

You may notice that some of these are a bit different to what you’re used to seeing.  So as not to repeat what others have already written about extensively, here is a page on clarifications about the difference in practice and beliefs between Ifa and related belief systems in Africa and the diaspora.

Often times, ignorant people create strife between Ifa/Orisha practitioners, claiming that if something isn’t done according to their (diaspora) ways, they’re not doing it right.  If they understood how people in Africa manage to coexist and share and exchange information and community spirit despite the differences, perhaps they would learn to do so as well.

Are the Orishas or Vodun the same as Angels?

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Not really.  Some Spirits that some have called Angels may be Orishas, but they are not really the same thing.  In the west African Vodun Obatala is the king of the Orishas, and the Emissary of the Supreme God (Olorun).  They have many attendants.  In Jewish and Christian faith, these attendants are called Angels.

The Orishas embody various forces of Nature, while Angels are beings sent to do specific jobs as individuals.  Though they may have specific duties, they do not actually live in or as forces of Nature such as Earth or Fire.

For example, one called Gabriel may deliver messages from Olorun, but he is not the Voice of Olorun.  That is Orunmila.

In diaspora systems when people had to hide their African faith, they often used Angels and Saints to represent Orishas.  So confusion in this is understandable.  In fact, some Angels may be very happy to represent Orishas and dutifully carry prayers and thanks to protect the lives of slaves and others living under religiously oppressive regimes.  So as I said in the Hoodoo Orisha article, don’t be quick to change everything you do that is working for you just because your information is updated.  Just make a note of it.  If you find that something may be more effective without the Angel or Saint middleman, then fix that.  Otherwise, “if it ain’t broke…”